December Book Review: Indian Food Made Easy by Anjum Anand

 Hot, spicy, oily, rich, fatty, unhealthy, difficult and time-consuming to cook.
These are some of the inaccuracies that plague South Asian cookery, specifically Indian cooking. These ideas are proof of how little most of the Western world still knows about Indian food.

Perhaps this is why Anjum Anand wrote the cookbook Indian Food Made Easy. Based in the UK, this author and her cookbook provide some basic recipes for curious entry-level cooks.

I like when any attempt is taken, by anyone, to introduce any variation of South Asian food to the world. So a round of applause to Anjum Anand — well done! The handsome paperback version is clearly laid out and easy to follow. The 95 recipes are divided into chapters on Light Meals, Snacks, Fish and Seafood, Chicken, Meat, Vegetables, Beans and Lentils, Bread and Rice, Raitas and Chutneys. I like that each recipe has enticing yet not overstyled photography.

While there are good elements to the cookbook, there are some missteps.

This is probably the only cookbook, I have ever purchased. I honestly am not even sure why I did, back in 2010. I believe it was on a whim. I usually flip through tons of cookbooks in bookstores, but rarely ever purchase one (I think it has to do with my minimlistic lifestyle – I don’t like lots of stuff). Anyways, perhaps I was trying to understand what type Indian cookery books actually existed? Pre-research for my blog, Indian Influence? Maybe, but probably not.

Anand attempts to breakdown the idea that Indian cooking is a complex and slow process, requiring many ingredients and sometimes unfamiliar methods to get the correct results. I think she succeeds at some level, but I feel like she could have done more.

What irks me the most is that this book plays into the idea of Indian cooking being exotic. I hate this stereotype. Anand’s inside jacket text expounds her recipes use fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients to create her dishes. Her prelude provides a list of ingredients like coconut, chili, ginger, and tamarind. But then she creates almost a disclaimer of sorts within some lines of text that suggests that specific ingredients are necessary to create the dishes. I believe this contradiction would be confusing for her target audience – people just starting out in Indian cooking. Especially since ingredients can be substituted depending on location, season, and budget.

Indian food has evolved over thousands of years and is the ultimate symbol of how the construct of Indian culture has the ability to absorb other influences, yet hold its own. Anand builds brief narratives on how the Raj manifests itself within some of her dishes. She quickly mentions British memsahibs teaching their cooks dishes from the West and in the process ‘enriching’ Indian cuisine, but she doesn’t really delve into how or why. This cookbook fails to really educate that Indian cooking takes the delicate and sometimes intricate art of blending and honing spices to perfection. Really then Indian cooking is artistically blended spices that can be used to create reinterpretations.

Anand positions the cookbook in a stereotypical way – I have seen this over and over again. Honestly, I find myself getting bored. Like how many more Indian cookbooks need to provide us with recipes for ultimate masala tea, potato and pea samosas, or curry chicken?

Many people, like me, who buy Indian Food Made Easy won’t cook from it at all. For example, mine is tucked away in a kitchen cupboard. It comes out every so often, when I wishfully think I could be inspired by it. Usually though, I am disheartened and put it right back in the cupboard. For me an indicator of an amazing cookbook, is folded pages, bits of writing here or there, or even spice splatters all over the recipes. My copy ofIndian Food Made Easy has no folded pages, no writing, or spice splatters. Instead it looks brand spanking new.

The bulk of the book consists of recipes, lots with shortcuts – hence the name of the cookbook. However, the author does not actually clarify she is reinterpreting some Western basics into fusion dishes. For example, in a recipe for crab cakes the author writes ‘these are one of the few fusion dishes in my repertoire’, yet she has recipes for cheese toast, hamburgers, and even a pasta dish. There is a clear disconnect between her recipes and her messaging.

These quick recipes only scratch the surface when it comes to exploring Indian cooking. It’s useful as a beginner’s guide, but will leave anyone with a bit of Indian food knowledge wanting more.

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One Comment

  1. Posted Saturday January 31, 2015 at 5:15 am | Permalink

    Interesting. A few years ago I was given another of Anand’s cookbooks, Eat Right for Your Type. The gist was that Indian cooking can be adapted to improve the health of different body types. It lived on my shelf much like your book–I pulled it out every so often. I did make two recipes from it (laksa and “Persian” saffron rice). The best feature of the book was the photography. It was beautiful with lovely colours and arrangements. One thing that bothered me about it was that the front cover picture showed Anand as a much more fair-skinned person than she looked in the pictures inside. It’s hard to know what to make of that. In the end I gave the book away before our last move. I have enjoyed better Indian food from our local authentic takeaway or using Patak’s pastes.

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